Earlier this week I criticized Gary Matthews Jr. for his not so subtly expressed distaste at anything other than a starting job in the outfield. Matthews had always been an average or worse hitter whose value was largely derived from glovework, but benefited from telltale luck-based indicators in 2006 with the bat, leading to what appeared to be a breakout season. The Angels rewarded him with a 5 yr/$50 mil contract and proceeded to witness Matthews fall off a cliff not only with the bat but also with the glove, becoming one of the worst players in the league last season.
With Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, and Juan Rivera, Matthews is the odd man out and has been very verbal recently about how the situation merits immediate rectification. Teammate Hunter actually keeps his own blog titled Torii’s Storiis and openly discussed his feelings over the Matthews situation. While I agree with much of what Hunter said, I am still adamant that Matthews has been handling this situation about as poorly as one can handle a situation.
Hunter’s main claim is that, despite the money, Matthews is an athlete and athletes are trained to be intensely competitive. Reading between the lines I gleaned that the defense suggests Matthews cannot see the forest from the trees and still considers himself an immensely productive player.
It also reminded me of a passage from Will Leitch’s book, God Save the Fan in which he recalled a 2-on-2 football game he participated in against Kordell Stewart and Andre Rison. Though Leitch and his partner were clearly amateurs with no shot, Stewart and Rison still proceeded to go all out and pull sneaky athletic tricks in the game. Leitch then remarked about how sad it was that these guys had been trained to be competitive like pitbulls, an aspect of their personality that could never be turned off.
Hunter then makes a very interesting point about Matthews’ age: at 34, Gary isn’t exactly a young guy, but he isn’t exactly an ancient veteran. Hunter feels that the older veterans make the best bench players because they fully understand their capabilities and limitations, while the younger guys are more prone to try and win at all costs. Matthews falls in between these two areas.
I completely grasp Hunter’s take on his teammate but that does not change the fact that Gary Matthews Jr. lacks the requisite talent to be a starting outfielder in the major leagues. His one calling card, defense, has fallen by the wayside over the last two years which, when coupled with average or worse offense makes him more of a liability than an asset. He could still have value as a potential defensive replacement in a limited sample size of innings or as a pinch-hitter/runner, but his fee is too exorbitant for such a role unless the Angels release the sunk cost and another team can sign him for the minimum.
Athletes are definitely human, but they do possess robotic aspects, primarily the need to compete at all costs. Torii Hunter makes some very valid points about Gary Matthews Jr. and his current mindset but none takes away what has been said or justifies the hullabaloo occurring as we speak. Not playing Matthews is a no-brainer situation for the Angels, but perhaps they instilled undeserved confidence in Matthews by issuing that dreadful contract. Luckily, it seems they are getting things right this time around.